The Constitution Unit


Designing a Constitutional Convention

The idea that the UK needs some form of constitutional convention to consider a range of possible reform issues rose high up the political agenda following the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and has remained there ever since. This attention is driven by the widely perceived need both to address contentious constitutional issues such as those relating to Brexit and the future of the Union should best be resolved, and to engage citizens more deeply in politics and decision-making.

But what form should a body designed to deliberate on constitutional options take? Would the traditional model of a commission of the great and the good be appropriate? Should a body encompassing representatives of civil society as well as politicians be considered? Or would a more genuinely inclusive assembly - including ordinary members of the public - be a better way forward? If the last, what form should this take.

This project, led by Alan Renwick and Robert Hazell, explores these questions.


Alan Renwick and Robert Hazell, Blueprint for a UK Constitutional Convention (2017)

Despite frequent calls for some form of citizen-led constitutional convention, there has been limited detailed thinking about the form that such a body should take. This report examines the issues, explores the lessons to be learned from similar exercises elsewhere, and identifies the pitfalls to be avoided. It sets out a blueprint for a citizens' constitutional convention in the UK.

The report finds that a constitutional convention of this kind could make a great and positive contribution to democratic governance in the UK. But the potential benefits should not be exaggerated. Furthermore, to succeed, a citizens' constitutional convention must be designed well and resourced adequately.

Related links:

Related Constitution Unit research

This project links with other Constitution Unit work on deliberative processes of decision-making:

  • Citizens' Assembly on Brexit: We are holding a citizens' assembly that will allow citizens to engage in detailed, reflective and informed discussions about what the UK's post-Brexit relations with the European Union should be.
  • Democracy Matters: We were part of a team that held two citizens' assemblies on local governance and democracy in Sheffield and Southampton in autumn 2015.
  • After the Referendum: Options for a Constitutional Convention: Alan Renwick conducted a detailed analysis in 2014 of the various options available for the design of a constitutional convention, leading to a report published by the Constitution Society. The report is available here; it is summarised in 'How to Design a Constitutional Convention for the UK', OurKingdom blog, 23 September 2014.

Our research in this area also picks up themes relating to how processes of constitutional reform are best conducted that have been at the heart of the work of the Constitution Unit since its very first report in 1996 and that the Unit has continued to address from time to time ever since. For details of this earlier research, see the Tracking UK Constitutional Reform page.